NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Reno Midair

The NTSB has released the preliminary report on the investigation into the midair collision that ended the Reno Air Races last month.

[Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board]

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released the preliminary report on the investigation into the midair collision that ended the Reno Air Races last month. Both pilots were killed in the accident that took place on September 17. The race had concluded, and both pilots were returning to land on Runway 8.

The report refers to the aircraft involved by their race numbers. Race 6, which is the North American T-6G, N2897G (Six Cat), and Race 14, North American AT-6B, N57418 (Baron's Revenge).

Most of the information comes from the pilot flying Race 66, who was third for landing.

Per the NTSB report, the pilot of Race 66 stated he was turning to enter the downwind when he heard the pilots of Baron's Revenge and Six Cat both transmit “Downwind, abeam.”

As the pilot of Race 66 did not see the two other aircraft, he slowed down to “create some space and time to see them.” He heard the pilot of Baron's Revenge transmit that he was on the base leg with his gear down. As the pilot of Race 66 approached the base leg, he saw Six Cat, and transmitted that Race 66 was downwind abeam his intended point of touchdown. He did not see Baron’s Revenge at first. 

He told investigators that when he "finally spotted" Baron's Revenge, it was below him on his right on base leg, and Six Cat was in level flight to his left. He added this was not where he expected the aircraft to be. He described the base leg flown by the pilot of Baron's Revenge as wider than it had been on two previous flights, while that flown by Six Cat was "tighter" than his position.

Baron's Revenge crossed in front of Race 66 from right to left, disappearing under his engine cowling, while Six Cat disappeared under his left wing.

The pilot of Race 66 transmitted that he had his gear down and started a left turn for the base leg of Runway 8.

He then saw Baron's Revenge in level flight with "nothing behind the passenger seat" and watched as the aircraft rolled to the right and plunged down.

According to another witness, Baron's Revenge was on a southerly heading on the base leg for Runway 8, approximately 300 feet agl, while Six Cat was on the downwind on a west-southwest heading at the same altitude.

The witness told investigators, "At the time of the collision, Six Cat Race 6 was at about a 75-degree angle in relation to the flight path of [Baron's Revenge] Race 14."

According to witnesses in the grandstands at the time of the accident, many people did not realize what had happened at first, as their attention was diverted because the race was over. Several people told FLYING they heard a gasp from the crowd, then turned around to see the aircraft appearing to disintegrate in mid air and dust rising from the desert floor as the wreckage tumbled to the ground. This was followed by a stunned silence falling over the crowd.

The Wreckage

The debris path began approximately 7,881 feet northwest of the approach end of Runway 8 and extended south to the main wreckage of Baron's Revenge for a distance of 1,366 feet in length.

The debris field included "segments of the left aileron, segments of the left flap, right horizontal stabilizer, right elevator, sections of aft fuselage skin, and a plastic pouch with the airplane documents."

Small pieces of black painted skin and plexiglass from Six Cat were found in the debris field. The wreckage of Six Cat came to rest in an open field. It was noted, "The wing structure was separated from the fuselage and the outboard left wing was separated at the attach joint. The wing sections were located about 30 ft south of the main wreckage."

There was significant aftward compression of the fuselage, and the vertical stabilizer, rudder, tailwheel, left horizontal stabilizer, left elevator, and portions of fuselage skin from Baron's Revenge were found commingled with the wreckage of Six Cat.

The wreckage of Baron's Revenge came to rest in an open field. The entire wing section was compressed aft, separated from the fuselage, and located about 10 feet from the main fuselage wreckage.

The NTSB stresses that this report is preliminary and subject to change as more information is uncovered. The final report is still likely several months away.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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